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Published: Wednesday, 8/3/2005

Wauseon bookstore bows out; cites competition, age

BY JANE SCHMUCKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Jerry Matheny, owner of Books, Brass, & Candles with his wife Sandy, said he will miss talking with customers, as he is here with Cecelia Yackee Nartker and pastor Scott Silcox. Jerry Matheny, owner of Books, Brass, & Candles with his wife Sandy, said he will miss talking with customers, as he is here with Cecelia Yackee Nartker and pastor Scott Silcox.
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By fall, Books, Brass, & Candles, the only general bookstore in Fulton and Henry counties, is to close, a victim of stiff competition from Wal-Mart and Internet booksellers and owners who have reached retirement age.

The book and gift store, operated since 1989 by former Wauseon mayor Jerry Matheny and his wife, Sandy, is expected to close in September or November.

Everything, including 3,700 books in stock, has been reduced 15 to 50 percent since the couple posted going out of business signs last week.

"Business hasn't been what it should be," Mr. Matheny said. "We've been discouraged that way."

Book sales, which typically have made up about 50 percent of the store's sales, have been nearly halved in recent years. That's pushed Books, Brass, & Candles annual sales to the lower end of its typical range of $100,000 to $150,000.

"We have Wal-Mart that sells books for less than I pay for them," Mr. Matheny said.

Consider the popular inspirational book The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. List price is $19.99, which is where Books, Brass, & Candles had it priced until marking it down by 20 percent to $16 for its going-out-of-business sale.

Wal-Mart on Airport Highway here had the book priced at $12.46, and Amazon.com had used copies starting at $5.20 and new copies at $11.99.

The story is similar with the new hit Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling. Books, Brass, & Candles priced the book at $22.54, down from the list price of $29.99, even before its closing sale. But Wal-Mart had it at $15.78 and Amazon.com had used copies starting at $15 and new books for $16.99.

Books, Brass & Candles has far more selection than Wal-Mart, whose book section is heavy on magazines, romance and other paperback novels, and children's books with perhaps 150 best-sellers, new releases, and classics.

But Internet booksellers have every title that Books, Brass, & Candles can get and like Wal-Mart, they're always open, while the downtown Wauseon store closes at 5:30 p.m. weekdays, 3 p.m. Saturdays, and all day Sunday.

The best years for Books, Brass, & Candles were in the mid 1990s when Beanie Babies were big. People lined up outside the store for hours, sometimes waiting through the night on the sidewalk, and would spend $100 in the shop without hesitation, Mrs. Matheny said.

"But that only happens once in your lifetime," she said.

Falling interest rates seemed to hurt the shop, she said. Until the early 1990s, the shop carried elaborate music boxes priced at up to $500. They appealed mainly to people in their 50s and 60s who had cash for such luxuries from interest checks from their investments, Mrs. Matheny said.

This week the most expensive music box in stock was a carousel, on sale for $190, down from the regular price of $380.

The Mathenys are looking for tenants for the shop and talking with other stores about selling their fixtures and remaining merchandise. Mrs. Matheny is 65 and her husband is 67 and has had numerous health scares. "You get to a point where you don't want to be tied down," she said.

The shop will be the second in downtown Wauseon's tiny retail area to close in less than a year. New Year's Eve was the last day for the Coach House women's boutique. A photo studio has moved into that space.

Without Books, Brass, & Candles, the only shop devoted mostly to books in Wauseon will be a religious store, Christian Books 'N Such on North Shoop Avenue.

Contact Jane Schmucker at:

jschmucker@theblade.com

or 419-337-7780.


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